DeKalb parents don’t want Chamblee magnet programs relocated

Plans to possibly relocate the popular Chamblee middle and high school magnet programs to Southwest DeKalb High School are drawing the ire of many parents, who say the move would essentially end the program.

At least one school board member says the furor is a product of the district’s north/south divide, as south DeKalb parents perceive favor given to north DeKalb programs, which they say explains existing achievement gaps, among other things.

“We still have some biases about what area our children are going (to school) in,” board member Joyce Morley said. “We want it to be convenient for us if we live in a certain area. But those coming from the south had to go up that way all these years. Everybody can’t be pleased.”

District officials presented several options during public hearings last week on using sales tax funds from the recently approved E-SPLOST V to manage expected growth. Areas from Dunwoody to Tucker along the I-285 corridor could see overcrowding by nearly 6,000 students by 2022 if nothing is done, officials said.

The meetings were to get feedback on three plans the district is considering, with options to add a school cluster, renovate schools to add space, or build new schools.

The idea of moving the magnet program to Southwest DeKalb was a matter of moving a program to another part of the county with the available space. District officials speculate at least half the students in the program would move with it. But some parents doubt that.

Holly Lombardo says other parents have told her they would enroll their children in neighborhood schools if the magnet program moves, with most concerned about the time added to daily commutes. Her teenage son attends the middle school magnet program.

“It’s just too much to ask for him to be on a bus at least an hour each way,” she said. “Any overcrowding issues they think they’re freeing up for moving the program wouldn’t happen. If they move it, people in this district won’t move (their students) with it.”

Monica Littlefield said she’s heard from other parents, including some in her carpool group, that they would send their children to neighborhood schools, some of which post test scores comparable to the magnet program’s. Many parents, when entering the district’s magnet lottery, pick schools according to achievement as well as proximity. A majority of the students at the Chamblee magnets live in north DeKalb County, or along the I-285 corridor from Dunwoody to Tucker. Littlefield’s view: If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Heather Hopper, whose daughter attends the magnet program, said a move to Southwest DeKalb would double their daily commute to nearly 90 minutes. She’s also concerned that the extra time to get to and from school would have a serious impact on extracurricular and social functions.

“I want my child to be able to go to football games and be in the band,” she said, “and all those things she wouldn’t be able to do” at a school so far away.

Morley said perceptions and misconceptions play largely into the debate on moving the magnet program. Historically, south DeKalb residents have complained that schools there receive few resources compared to their counterparts along the I-285 corridor near Dunwoody. Administration officials have long combatted that narrative.

“When you want a quality education, you’ll go as many miles as you have to go,” she said. “We have to do what’s best for all children and not try to satisfy … by being convenient for some and not others.”

School board chairman Melvin Johnson said the idea of moving the magnet program came from efforts to engage people in decisions on a final E-SPLOST project list, and he hopes any issues with moving the magnet program will be considered as the district reaches those decisions.

“I like the superintendent’s message making sure he goes to the community and sees what they want,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to have community engagement, you’ve got to consider everything that comes out of those meetings.” Green “will assess each recommendation to be presented to the board.”